U.S. embassy the least of Israel’s concerns, panel told
Israel will face more serious concerns during the incoming Trump administration than the placement of the U.S. embassy, a Washington-based pundit told a panel at Beth Tikvah Synagogue.
“I think there will be war with Hezbollah in the next four years,” said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The Israeli intelligence community is obsessed with Hezbollah right now. Hezbollah is the No. 1 strategic threat, even more than Iran in general, even though Hezbollah is controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
“Get ready for the Third Lebanon War… It’s going to be a brutal war, and if you thought Israel was under attack by the international community in the last Lebanon war or the Gaza war, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The only way to neutralize Hezbollah will be with a lot of civilian deaths. It’s unavoidable because of where Hezbollah has hidden its weapons.”
Dubowitz teamed with fellow analyst Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute to critique former U.S. president Barack Obama’s foreign policy record and look ahead to U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. Their Jan. 15 panel discussion, “Israel, Iran, and the American Presidency” was moderated by Beth Tikvah’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Jarrod Grover.
Sponsored by Rob and Tracey Baruch, the evening was the first stage of their son Aden’s bar mitzvah celebration. Money raised from the event – they hope to reach $5,000 – will fund water backpacks the family will present to soldiers during a trip to Israel this summer. Aden will celebrate his bar mitzvah in March.
Trump has sown confusion with statements that contradict both his own cabinet nominees’ opinions and established U.S. bipartisan principles. But Doran, a Middle East expert, and Dubowitz, a former Torontonian who studies Iranian terror funding, think the pandemonium could restore American deterrence that was absent under Obama’s more methodical style.
“[Trump] is practicing FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt,” said Dubowitz. “The Iranians, the Russians, the Chinese, America’s adversaries, can’t read Donald Trump from hour to hour, from tweet to tweet.”
Despite the confusion, Doran predicted Trump will keep his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“There will be some noise, maybe some violence when we move the embassy,” he said. “But it will die down. It’s really a nonissue – it’s [likely to be] in west Jerusalem [which is expected to remain under Israeli control in any final status agreement].”
Doran is as pessimistic about peace as he was when he served as a senior director of the National Security Council under former U.S. president George W. Bush.
“There won’t be an Israeli-palestinian agreement in the next eight years,” Doran said. “The two sides are too far apart on every issue… No amount of American elbow grease is going to make it happen.”
Trump enters office with a pro-israel reputation burnished by the selection of pro-settler David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka converted to Judaism, and Trump has said he will appoint her husband, Jared Kushner, as a special adviser to negotiate peace in the Middle East.
“I think he maybe believes that he can solve the conflict,” Dubowitz said of Trump. “It will be presented as he is the most pro-israel president ever, and Kushner is Jewish and obviously pro-israel. But then if it backfires, Trump might take it personally. Israel has to be very careful… it could create friction with Israel that is both unexpected and deleterious.”
Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a prickly relationship, highlighted by disagreement over the Iran nuclear deal. Trump has said he plans to rip up the agreement.
Dubowitz, who considers Iran the greatest threat to U.S. national security, advised Trump to use any leverage it provides until a better one can be negotiated.
“My advice would be zero tolerance for Iranian violations of the deal,” he said. “The Obama administration has created an impression in Iran that we’re a paper tiger. The first violation that comes down, hit them hard with sanctions.”